Brown University News Bureau

The Brown University News Bureau

1997-1998 index

Distributed November 11, 1997
Contact: Scott Turner

Brown's Krystyn Van Vliet wins three national engineering awards

Krystyn Van Vliet, a Brown University student who overcame serious head injuries and a resulting learning disability, has won academic scholarships that cover her senior-year tuition and other expenses.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Krystyn Van Vliet, a Brown University senior studying materials science, recently won three national engineering awards.

She received the first William Park Woodside Scholarship from ASM International, The Materials Information Society. The award covers Van Vliet's senior-year tuition. At the ASM annual meeting in Indianapolis, Ind., Van Vliet was honored for "the level of enthusiasm, academic aptitude and personal spirit with which she has approached her study of materials."

Van Vliet also received the TMS/SMD Scholarship for 1997. Offered by the Minerals, Metals & Materials Society, the $2,500 award honors Van Vliet's academic, work and leadership achievements. At the same time, she won second place in the 1998 TMS Outstanding Student Paper Contest, Undergraduate Division, for an article on titanium corrosion. She will receive the honors at ceremonies in San Antonio, Texas, in February.

Few people, including those honoring Van Vliet, know that she suffered grave head injuries in a one-car accident four years ago. Hospitalized for three months, Van Vliet worked diligently with rehabilitation personnel to regain her memory, judgment, speech and other communication skills.

Although Van Vliet arrived at Brown ready to leave her accident behind, she found that her injuries had left her with a learning disability. She had memory problems, read slowly and often forgot the point of a sentence before reaching its conclusion. Accommodations by the University, such as allowing her extra time on exams, helped relieve the pressure Van Vliet had put on herself to overcome her injuries quickly.

"Coming to terms with having a learning disability has simply taken a great deal of time and support from my incredibly devoted family and boyfriend, and from my professors," she said. "Although it took me several months to realize the severity of my accident, once I did this I decided to get all I could out of my own life, and also to give back to people I thought I'd always have time to appreciate in some vague `later on' portion of my life."

Van Vliet has collected and distributed food locally for Project SAVE, and participated in outreach programs at the Vartan Gregorian Elementary School at Fox Point. During her sophomore year, she was matched with Fred, a local mentally-retarded man, for a one-on-one friendship as part of the Best Buddies program.

Today, she is local Best Buddies campus director, and still sees Fred. She is vice chair of a materials society student chapter, coordinator for the course "Introduction to Mechanics and Engineering Computation," and voluntary grader for the "Materials Science" course.

Further, Van Vliet is a first-year outreach coordinator for Women in Science and Engineering, helping pair women seniors in science and engineering with first-year counterparts. She coordinated lab tours and other activities in celebration of the engineering division's 150th anniversary.

Faculty say Van Vliet never gives a half effort. For three years, she has worked with professors Clyde Briant and Sharvan Kumar on research to gauge how heat and sea water affect corrosion of titanium, a metal used in the machinery of ocean-going vessels.

"Krystyn is an incredibly disciplined individual," said Briant, professor of engineering. "She sets her sights on high targets and reaches them. She is tremendously motivated, well-disciplined and highly charged."

Kumar, associate professor of engineering, says it is rare for one student to receive three major awards in one semester. "This is a small engineering school, with 10 students in the senior class studying materials," he said. "This amount of recognition for one of those 10 students is exceptional."

Van Vliet has applied to several graduate schools, where she hopes to study bio-materials such as those used in implants and artificial organs.